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Christmas Eve at the Red Cat

It was Christmas Eve and the bakery was swept clean, all the pots and pans put away and the only thing still dirty was the teapot from which Star poured a cup of tea and the pot of porridge bubbling over the fire.

She lit the candles in the windows, humming carols as she went about locking up for the night. Down the street the Cathedral bells were ringing and somewhere she could hear urchins caroling through the street, no doubt full of wassail. Careful not to spill her tea, she climbed the narrow staircase that led to her apartment. She flicked a finger at the chamberstick just inside her bedroom door and it blazed to life. She sat the tea down next to it, locked the bedroom door, and crossed to the wardrobe. She shoved aside the dresses and coats and felt along the backing until she found the little hidden button and pushed it. The back of the wardrobe slid open and she climbed through.

Behind was a small room, barely large enough for the little wood stove, a chair, a small table, and the cot it held, but it wasn’t a cold or uncomfortable room, quite the contrary, there was something very warm and homey about it. In daylight it was lit by a pair of the round stained-glass dormer windows that tilted outward to let in fresh air on the rare fine day, but at the moment the only light was the glow of the coals through the vent on the stove.

Star felt along the top of the little table until she found the chamberstick and lit it. She added an extra log to the stove and looked around to make sure everything was as it should be. With a little light the room was quite cheery. She’d hung some holly in the room in honor of the season and tied red velvet ribbons around the little bedposts.

The little bed had one occupant and she leaned over him and tucked a quilt she had made tighter around him, always fretting about drafts. She ruffled his knotty hair and kissed his forehead.

“Happy Christmas, Pocket.” She smiled and placed the candle in one of the windows, “I’d read you a story tonight, but I worry that it’d make Santa late, and I’m sure he hates that. So I’ll read to you in the morning if you don’t mind.” In the months since she had rescued him, he’d never woken once or even moved, but that didn’t stop her from chattering at him or reading to him in the evenings.

She left him tucked-in and warm, surrounded by cheery ribbon and kept company by the flickering candle and, pushing the dresses in the wardrobe back to the way they were before, took her tea down into the bakery where the porridge was steaming and looked just right.

She dished it into two bowls, slicing thick slabs of butter into them. She put one on the hearth to keep warm and the other at the back door. “For the cats,” she always told Kaylee, “no reason they should go hungry on Christmas. Everyone knows cats like porridge.” Kaylee always looked like she wanted to argue with her about that, but always decided against it as Star was part-cat and did seem to make a lot of porridge.

Star settled into the sofa in front of the fire and sipped her tea, intending to read her book. But instead the crackle of the fire and the sound of the snow brushing against the windows proved too much for her, and she dropped off to sleep.

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